Sunday, August 24, 2014

On the Streets of Lille:

Walking though the streets of Lille: A city just south of the Belgian border, whose national allegiance has shifted–or perhaps the better expression is, forced–throughout the past four centuries. Named 'Rijsel' in Dutch, the city's architecture is much less 'French' than that found, in, for instance, Bordeaux; that's because of the city's geographical position: not quite French and not quite Belgian, Lille seems to suffer from a loss of its identity, and, it would seem, is in the process of rediscovering, or perhaps, recovering, it. The city's citadel, ordered to be built by Louis XIV, is sited just north of the city center; remarkably, it's nearly entirely intact. Louis' presence can also be felt elsewhere within the city; seventeenth century architecture is abound. But, while existent, it was the city's early-nineteenth century architecture–particularly the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille–that swept me off my feet; as soon as I entered that building, I could feel that it was special, and also somewhat peculiar. Reminiscent of the the grandeur of eighteenth century France, though at a scale that certainly belongs to the early-nineteenth, the museum itself, and especially its main entry and staircases, is a playground for the the dancing of sunlight and shadows. The collection of Dutch painting does leave more to desired, though not in quantity, but quality, as many were in a serious need of restoration–cleaning and care. Cannon balls can still be seen lodged within the city's main market building, the Vieille Bourse, built during the Spanish reign, under Spain's Phillip IV. Visiting such cities as Lille–with its many hidden and less spectacular, though perhaps richer, for exactly that reason, sights–has enlightened me to the seemingly-infinite connections that can be made between the European monarchs of centuries past. A continent that was once so distant to me–Europe–has since become one of the main cornerstones of my life; I am so taken by Dutch art, and I take immense mental joy in connecting the historical dots across the continent–specifically the those of the seventeenth century Dutch Republic–and even more so, those of its prodigious output of paintings, within which, while looking toward them, I lend to loose track of the time, and also of myself.